A Change in Fortune

Fifty-five years after it earned half of its own chapter in Jack Townsend’s The Bartender’s Book, the Clover Club has been forgotten by all but the most dedicated of students of the mixological arts. Along with its close relative (and topic of the other half of Townsend’s chapter), the Pink Lady, the Clover Club was an emblematic cocktail of a particular type of drinker. As Townsend noted in 1951–

The Clover Club drinker is traditionally a gentleman of the pre-Prohibition school. He may not necessarily be one of the legal, literary, or business figures who were members of the club of that name. He may never have been in the bar of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia where the Clover Club members foregathered and the drink originated. But he belongs with that set. And switch from a Clover Club to a Pink Lady? Never! For one thing, someone might classify him along with that Pink Lady drinker down the bar.

Who dat? Why, surely you know her. She’s that nice little girl who works in files, who’s always so courteous but always seems so timid. She’s the one who sort of reminds you of your aunt, the quiet one. Naturally, you never expected to see her at a bar. She gets into one about twice a year, at Christmas time or some other high old time. Just why she picks the Pink Lady for these occasions–since the Lady packs quite a wallop–remains a mystery, even to her perhaps. It’s quite possible she has seen the decorative and innocuous-appearing pink-and-white amalgamation passing on a waiter’s tray and decided, “Hmmm, that couldn’t do me any harm.”

Townsend–who at the time of writing the above was the president of the Bartender’s Union of New York, Local 15, AFL–knew a thing or two about cocktails and the types of customers likely to be attached to them, and referred to the drinker of the Clover Club as “the distinguished patron of the oak-paneled lounge.”

The Clover Club - Pink Lady FamilyBut while these captains of industry may have disdained the file clerks ordering their Pink Ladies, by the time Townsend penned The Bartender’s Book, the writing was on the wall–the Clover Club was becoming a woman’s drink. According to a survey of bartenders in the U.S. and Canada, conducted by the New York Bartender’s Union from approximately 1946-1951, the Clover Club had slipped out of its leather-and-oak gentleman’s club habitat and made itself a preferred drink among the post-War Carrie Bradshaws. Yet even with this gender switch, the Clover Club’s fortunes were sinking. Rated the 34th most popular cocktail in the survey–tied with the Tom and Jerry, below the Jack Rose, Rock-and-Rye and Milk Punch, and just barely ahead of other forgotten drinks such as the Paradise, the Horse’s Neck and the Gin Daisy–the Clover Club was reported as decreasing in popularity in the six years covered by the survey.

Even with today’s growing interest in classic cocktails, it’s unlikely that the Clover Club will recover. For one thing, it contains raw egg white, which would seem to be the kiss of death for classic cocktails trying to make a comeback, with the possible exception of the Pisco Sour and, perhaps–and not without a heavy note of irony–the Pink Lady (disguised as “The Secret Cocktail” in Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails).

Furthermore, while it’s an interesting drink from a historical perspective, for culinary adventurers it’s a bit lackluster, especially as compared with more complex drinks such as–cue the irony again–the Pink Lady. Gin, lemon juice and grenadine, shaken with the white of an egg–bracing, fortifying, reliable, and ultimately unexciting; a Studebaker in a cocktail glass. But take the example of the timid file clerk at the end of the bar, and tip in a little applejack, and the Clover Club morphs into a free-spirited firecracker. Townsend writes,

Aside from the young ladies at their infrequent soirees, the Pink Lady is drunk to some extent by the seekers of the gay life along the Great White Way. Somehow, to the boys who were brought up looking at the flamboyant circus posters on the side of country barns, a Pink Lady connotes something halfway between their early dreams of a lady acrobat in white tights and a scarlet woman.

Fifty-odd years later, the Clover Club is little more than a footnote in cocktail history, appearing as an afterthought (or a prelude, as the case may be) when discussing its once-insolent, yet ultimately tastier and much more fun relative. Any more irony left in that shaker?

Clover Club

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 dashes real grenadine (to taste)
  • 1 egg white (1 egg white will suffice for two drinks)

Add ice and shake with studied firmness for at least 10 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a stern glower.

Pink Lady

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce applejack
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 dashes grenadine (to taste)
  • 1 egg white (1 egg white will suffice for two drinks)

Add ice and shake with carefree exuberance for at least 10 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish, of course, with a cherry.

25 Responses to A Change in Fortune

  1. Thanks for the bit of history. I’ll have to try a pink lady at the very least. Trader Vic’s says they’re served in champagne saucers – when did that presentation come to be, do you know?

  2. I don’t know why he chose champagne saucers for this drink, but I can see his rationale–it certainly looks nice. I use this type of glass for cocktails on occasion, just for some variety in appearance. I wonder if, at the time, the champagne saucers looked more “ladylike” and demure than did cocktail glasses, hence more acceptable for women ordering a whopper of a drink. Just a guess, anyway.

  3. Hey Paul, I happen to work at the Bellevue in Philadelphia… do you think we should bring the Clover Club back? Simply substituting sour mix for the egg white and lemon juice? It might be fun for the nostalgia.

  4. I am 100% in agreement on the Pink Lady — now that is a drink worthy of revival. Everyone who has tried it at my house has become a big fan. I use Embury’s recipe:

    1 part Grenadine
    2 parts Lemon Juice
    2 parts Apple Brandy
    6 parts Gin
    1 Egg White to each two drinks

  5. Is sour mix still so prevailiant in the US ? If so,why is it used, for speed, effiency, economy ? Surely these reasons cant outweigh the difference in taste to the drink. Ive never used sourmix before, but i cant imagine going into the birthplace of such a classic drink, to have it made with sourmix, that would be harsh.

  6. And also, you cant substitute egg white with sour mix, sour mix will sweeten the drink, it wontbind the flavours or add any texture or mouth feel. I use eggwhite in alot of drinks, not all of them need it, and not all of them work with it. But some, simply dont work at all without it.

  7. having neither applejack nor grenadine, my version of the Pink Lady turned out quite well, using Cognac and Creme de Cassis.

  8. Hi all,
    If you ever give Amsterdam a visit….we serve an amazing Clover club at Vesper bar. We make this fantastic drink with home made raspberry syrup…
    Hope serving you
    regards your bartender from Amsterdam

    Fjalar goud

  9. If you ever visit Belgium,
    come to Gent one of the prettiest cities of the world and we at Cafe Theatre serve a clover club with Fresh! eggwhite and homemade raspberry syrup…
    (It’s not on the menu but you can ask for classics all night long!)
    Olivier

  10. In 1880, Ambrose Burnside Lincoln Hoffman was a 14-year-old bartender at Bellvue-Stratford Hotel. Bartending was a noble profession and Ambrose had a gift for it. Family lore is that he won a contest at the Bellvue-Stratford by inventing the “Pink Lady.” I think we’ve figured out that he invented the Clover Club Cocktail, but our family historian (his granddaughter) remembers it as a Pink Lady–perish the thought. While the Clover Club cocktail might be “out of fashion” for the mainstream, I’m serving them at our next family reunion in honor of Ambrose.

  11. In 1880, Ambrose Burnside Lincoln Hoffman was a 14-year-old bartender at the Bellvue-Stratford Hotel. Bartending was a noble profession and Ambrose had a gift for it. Family lore is that he won a contest at the Bellvue-Stratford by inventing the “Pink Lady.” I think we’ve figured out that he invented the Clover Club Cocktail, but our family historian (his granddaughter) remembers it as the Pink Lady–perish the thought. While the Clover Club cocktail might be “out of fashion” for the mainstream, I’m serving them at our next family reunion in honor of Ambrose.

Leave a reply